Margate commissioners had mixed reactions to a private meeting with state and federal officials over a proposed dune program on the city's beaches.

Meanwhile, when it comes to a citywide vote on the project and potential easements, time is becoming an issue.

Representatives from the state Department of Environmental Protection and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers met in an executive session with Mayor Mike Becker and commissioners Brenda Taube and Maury Blumberg on Thursday to discuss details of the dune and beach replenishment program.

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While Longport has already signed on, by ordinance Margate's participation must first be approved by the City Commission and then by voters in a referendum in November.

Solicitor Scott Abbott said that the commission must initiate a binding referendum by Aug. 16 for it to appear on the November ballot.

But the ordinance, written during the first debate over dunes in 2002 and 2003 - when Atlantic City and Ventnor agreed to dunes, but Margate and Longport decided against them - only requires a referendum if the commission agrees to the dune project. If the commission decides against it, there is no requirement for a binding referendum to reverse that decision.

Residents would have until Aug. 30 to place a referendum on the ballot by petition, but it would be nonbinding.

As far as the potential project, Taube said that the initial beachfill and dunes would be funded at no cost to Margate, while any future replenishment would be funded at the standard breakdown of the Army Corps paying for 65 percent, the state Department of Environmental Protection about 26 percent and the city about 9 percent.

Easements are another issue. "Extensive title searches" are needed to determine which beachfront property owners could be affected by the project, Abbott said, so in the meantime the city is sending out notices to all beachfront owners that easements may be necessary.

"Until we determine who has certain rights, the bottom line is we're covering all our bases and sending a notice to all of them," Abbott said.

Taube also said a credit is available for easements, which is 35 percent of the total cost of the entire project.

What the commission will do is still unclear. Taube backs the dune project, saying that Hurricane Sandy was "a game-changer" in showing the importance of dunes, while Blumberg said he has many questions and concerns about the project. Becker, who could not be reached for comment Friday, has not stated how he would vote.

"I was not for dunes 10 years ago, but I am now," Taube said. "I think that we have to look out for the preservation of our beach, and we need to do this now to take advantage of the funding."

Blumberg said that he was "very cautious" about the project. "I am weary in that they keep saying (the initial work) is going to be free, free, free," Blumberg said. "We all know nothing is free, especially given the history of beach replenishment projects. ... The DEP and the corps are pressing us to do something very, very soon, and they want us to make a decision in less than three months. That's not only unreasonable, but unrealistic given we don't have all the facts."

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